One of the things I have seen suggested by certain “scientists” over the past few decades is the idea that humanity’s evolution is no longer moving in a positive direction with regard to intelligence. A common theory is that because the day-to-day fight to survive pressure is no longer common in the industrialized world, humans are not merely no longer advancing, but are actually declining. There was a story floating around the internet earlier this week where a prominent evolutionary scientist was claiming that a human of 10,000 years ago would be smarter, have better memory and be able to react more appropriately to danger than a modern human.

Some of this comes from what I have come to call the theory of evolutionary entropy. That theory suggests that evolution progresses in the direction of stress, and in the absence of stress, traits degrade. The most commonly cited evidence of this tendency is the common “rail” family of birds, which includes a huge variety of short rounded-winged birds, most of which prefer to run on the ground unless forced to take to the air. Rails are poor flyers and as such tend to get blown around by storms a lot. This, somewhat paradoxically, seems to have made them one of the most successful island colonizers among non-seafaring birds. The rationale behind this is that rails tend to get blown off course easily and can be carried hundreds or even thousands of miles off course by strong storm systems (typhoons, hurricanes, Michelle Obama).

Because rails are so widespread, and tend to be island colonizers, it has not been uncommon over the geologic timescale for them to end up on islands with no natural predators and abundant food. In such cases rails tend to lose the ability to fly. This, and similar lack of evolutionary “pressure” has led some scientists to conclude that successful traits will breed out quickly in the absence of survival pressure.

So they conclude that intelligence in humans is suffering the same fate.

Now, I have to admit that when I look at human culture I sort of have to wonder about this theory. It could even be argued that many modern societies tend to selectively breed for what were once considered undesirable traits, such as sloth, ignorance and a desire to watch TV shows like “Honey Boo-boo.”

It would certainly explain the recent rise and potential dominance of the Democrat party.

However, I am not convinced that it’s true. First of all, evolution tends to work on timescales that dwarf our cultural frame of reference, so even if it is happening, it is hard to believe that it could be happening fast enough to explain the elections of, for example, Barack Obama or Joe Biden. Also I actually tend to believe that the modern environment humans live in is far more difficult and complex than anything our forebears of 10,000 years ago faced. Humans as a species have not been “pushed” to survive since the introduction of agriculture, which can be traced back at least 10,000 years. And in all that time every culture has had its share of indolent, intellectually vapid citizens. But in spite of that, human technology and culture has evolved and “advanced” at an ever accelerating rate, and shows no signs of stopping now.

Give Obama’s policies a million years or so and I suspect we might see a general decline in IQ. But I just don’t see it happening in a few, or even a few hundred, generations.